The O’Conor Faly Murders of 1306

Carrick castle, Co. Kildare, the venue for the notorious O'Conor Faly murders in 1306.

The O’Conor Faly murders of 1306 were the most notorious and shocking of Medieval Irish history.

In 1306 one of the most notorious and shocking murders of Irish history was carried out by Sir Piers Mac Feorais Bermingham on the family of Murtough O’Conor Faly, King of Offaly. Piers Bermingham had agreed to act as god-father to Murtough’s nephew and Murtough, his brother and all the O’Conor Faly chiefs had attended a baptismal mass with the Berminghams at Carrick, Co. Kildare on the feast of the Holy Trinity. After the mass the whole party entered the Bermingham Castle at Carrick and it was here that Birmingham’s men attacked and killed Murtough and his entire family. Twenty-nine people are said to have been killed and then decapitated.

 The O’Conor Faly sept or clan were descendants of the Uí Failge who were Kings of eastern Offaly (now part of Co. Kildare) and at times had been Kings of Leinster. When the Normans arrived in Kildare in the 1170s they had been forced out of their lands into the area of Offaly west of Tullamore. Here they had regrouped and at the end of the thirteenth century had risen against the English. Their most spectacular raid was in 1294 when they had captured Kildare castle and destroyed the records of the Lordship of Kildare.

Robert de Bermingham had taken part in the original Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland and Strongbow, the leader of the expedition, had granted him the lands of the Uí Failge. His descendant Piers Bermingham was baron of Tothemoy, the part of north-east Offaly next to Co. Kildare. In 1289 he had been appointed by the King to guard the Marches or frontier of Leinster from Rathangan north to his barony of Tothemoy. This had placed the Berminghams and O’Conor Faly on a collision course and they had been at war intermittently since that time. In 1306 however there must have been a truce and the baptismal ceremony on the feast of the Holy Trinity was presumably intended to cement improved relations between the two frontier families. Perhaps a baptism could have been followed by a marriage alliance? What the O’Conor Faly didn’t know is that Piers Birmingham planned to use the occasion to administer the coup de grâce.

The murders took place at Carrick castle which is on the road from Edenderry to Kinnegad in western Co. Kildare. Carrick castle is actually a thirteenth century Hall-House, a rectangular three-story block with vaulting over the first floor that supported a main hall on the second floor. The Hall-House is situated conveniently next to a thirteenth century church and it was probably here that the baptismal ceremony took place with the after celebrations planned for the Hall-House. The murders were reported on extensively in the contemporary chronicles.

 The Annals of the Fours Masters recorded that:

 “O’Conor Faly (Murtough), Maelmora, his kinsman, and Calvagh O’Conor, with twenty-nine of the chiefs of his people, were slain by Sir Pierce Mac Feorais Bermingham in Mac Feorais’s own castle, by means of treachery and deceit.”

 The fullest account was written in the Annals of Innisfallen:

“Muirchertach Ó Conchobuir Fhailgi and In Calbach his brother, were slain by Sir Piers Bermingham, after he had deceitfully and shamefully invited them and acted as god-father to [the child of] the latter and as co-sponsor with the other. Masir, the little child who was a son of the latter, and whom Piers himself had sponsored at confirmation, was thrown over [the battlements of] the castle, and it was thus it died. And twenty-three or twenty-four of the followers of those men mentioned above, were slain, for In Gaillsech Shacsanach (she was the wife of the same Piers) used to give warning from the top of the castle of any who went into hiding, so that many were slain as a result of those warnings. And woe to the Gaedel who puts trust in a king’s peace or in foreigners after that! For, although they had [the assurance of] their king’s peace, their heads were brought to Áth Cliath, and much wealth was obtained for them from the foreigners. “

 As the Annals of Innisfallen indicate Bermingham was not punished by the King for the murders but instead received a sizable reward. In fact it is recorded in the Calendar of Justiciary Rolls of Ireland that on the 9th of June 1306 Bermingham and his accomplices appeared in the Royal Justiciar’s Court at Naas. They requested a payment for the beheading of felons. The individuals beheaded aren’t named but this undoubtedly refers to the O’Conor Faly and his family who been killed just weeks earlier. Bermingham was granted a £23 reward from the Royal treasury by the Justiciar. The suspicion is that this was a government sanctioned murder. But if its aim was to remove the threat to the frontier posed by the O’Conor Faly clan it failed and in fact hostilities recommenced immediately. The O’Conor Faly would continue to be a threat to the English province until the plantation of Offaly in the sixteenth century.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The O’Conor Faly Murders. The Charles Mount Blog, September 29, 2011.

The Review of the Record of Monuments and Places.

Monuments like this county Wexford mill could lose all legal protection if post-1700 sites are removed from the Record of Monuments and Places.


In recent weeks the Record of Monuments and Places, which since the mid-1990s has in combination with the Planning and Development Acts been the basis of monument protection in Ireland, has become the focus of attention as a result of a review of the Record being carried out by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) was established under section 12 (1) of the 1994 National Monuments (Amendment) Act and provides that the Commissioners (now the Minister) shall establish and maintain a record of monuments and places where the Minister believes there are monuments, such record to be comprised of a list of monuments and relevant places and a map or maps showing each monument and relevant place in respect of each county in the state. Section 12 (2) provides that the record shall be exhibited in each county. Section 12 (3) provides that when the owner or occupier of a monument or place which has been recorded under subsection 12(1) or any person proposes to carry out, or to cause or permit the carrying out of, any work at or in relation to such monument or place, he shall give notice in writing of his proposal to carry out the work to the Commissioners (now the Minister) and shall not, except in the case of urgent necessity and with the consent of the Commissioners (now the Minister), commence the work for a period of two months after having given the notice.

 The Record is essentially a notification mechanism that functions mainly through the planning system (through policies included in the County Development Plans) to alert the National Monuments Service and other third party planning consultees to development proposals that have the potential to impact monuments in the Record. Steps can then be taken to assess any impacts and have them mitigated as appropriate.

Removal of Monuments from the Record

The legislation establishing the Record has only these three sections and there is no mechanism included in the Act for the removal of a monument, nor has a mechanism been included in any subsequent amendments. In effect once a monument has been placed on the record, as long as it still physically exists, there are no legal grounds for removing it from the Record.

The Definition of a Monument

The definition of a monument is found in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 and includes any artificial or partly artificial building, structure, or erection whether above or below the surface of the ground and whether affixed or not affixed to the ground and any cave, stone, or other natural product whether forming part of or attached to or not attached to the ground which has been artificially carved, sculptured or worked upon or which (where it does not form part of the ground) appears to have been purposely put or arranged in position and any prehistoric or ancient tomb, grave or burial deposit, but does not include any building which is for the time being habitually used for ecclesiastical purposes. There is no date involved in the legal definition of a monument; therefore a monument may be of any date.

National Monuments

The definition of a National Monument is also found in section 2 of the National Monuments Act 1930 and refers to a monument or the remains of a monument the preservation of which is a matter of national importance by reason of the historical, architectural, traditional, artistic, or archaeological interest attaching thereto and also includes (but not so as to limit, extend or otherwise influence the construction of the foregoing general definition) every monument in Saorstát Eireann to which the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, 1882, applied immediately before the passing of this Act, and the said expression shall be construed as including, in addition to the monument itself, the site of the monument and the means of access thereto and also such portion of land adjoining such site as may be required to fence, cover in, or otherwise preserve from injury the monument or to preserve the amenities thereof.

Again there is no date provided in the definition. But the emphasis on historical, traditional and artistic traits clearly indicates that the framers of the Act had in mind that structures of recent historical date could be classified as National Monuments. Indeed a number of post-1700 structures were in fact acquired by the state and preserved as National Monuments. These include monuments such as Michael Collins’ birthplace, Eamon de Valera’s Cottage and Seán Mac Diarmada’s House.

New Government Policy

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated in the answer to a Parliamentary Question on 20th September that:

“My Department is currently examining the recording of post-1700 AD monuments with a view to formulating policy and criteria for including them in a revised and updated Record of Monuments. The objective of the review is to achieve a standard approach nationally that will ensure that all elements of the built heritage continue to be adequately protected. (Question No. 312, Ref No: 25004/11)”

The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland have expressed concern that the review may result in post-1700 monuments being removed from the record. Many structures of post-1700 date have been highlighted on the National Monuments database in preparation for their removal from the Record. Amongst the monuments highlighted for delisting are Michael Collins’ birthplace, Eamon de Valera’s Cottage and Seán Mac Diarmada’s House which are all in the care of the State and appear on the 2009 list of National Monuments issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That these National Monuments are being considered for removal from the Record of Monuments appears to create an anomalous situation. If these structures are not considered to be monuments worthy of inclusion in the Record then should they not also be removed from the list of National Monuments as well? Some would argue that these are National Monuments because of their connection with individuals of importance in the history of Ireland. If these criteria are considered enough to justify these structures as National Monuments, then why not as a Recorded Monuments? And what about all the other structures associated with historic personages and events, are they not monuments as well?

Falling Between Stools

Another issue with the delisting is that an assumption may have been made that all the post-1700 Recorded Monuments have been included in the Records of Protected Structures included in the County Development Plans, but, this is far from the case. For example, Creenagh Bridge, Co. Leitrim LE033-038—- which is marked for delisting, is noted on a map in 1750 and is presumably older. It is not listed as a Protected Structure in the Leitrim Co. Development Plan 2009-15 nor is it included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. If the bridge is delisted from the Record of Monuments this historic structure more than 250 years old will be stripped of all legal protection. The sweathouse at Kilmore, Co. Galway GA044-073002 is an undated structure that is situated next to a Holy Well GA044-073001- and could be part of a complex of early Medieval monuments. This structure is not listed as a Protected Structure in the Galway Co. Development Plan 2009-15, nor is it included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. This structure of unknown date situated beside a Holy Well will may be stripped of all heritage protection. Many more monuments once thought worthy of protection will similarly have all legal protection removed under these proposals.


In a press statement issued on the 21st September 2011 entitled “Deenihan Confirms Post 1700 AD Monuments Will Continue to be protected”, the Minister stated:

 “There is no question of the current Record of Monuments and Places being revised until we have completed the review” he added. “When draft policy and criteria for updating the RMP have been developed, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will consult with interested parties before any decisions are made.”

It is to be sincerely hoped that following the review of the Record of Monuments all elements of the built heritage will continue to be adequately protected as the Minister has said.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Review of the Record of Monuments and Places. The Charles Mount Blog, September 22, 2011.

Michael Collins’ Birthplace to be delisted from Record of Monuments


This gallery contains 3 photos.

One of the anomalies surrounding the proposal by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to delist post-1700 monuments from the statutory Record of Monuments and Places is that some of the monuments indicated for delisting are National Monuments … Continue reading

New Irish environmental regulations require more land restructuring and water management projects be scoped and assessed.

A ringfort forms part of a field boundary near Cam, Co. Roscommon.

The Irish Government has unveiled its approach to amending the Environmental Impact Assessment system to comply with the European Court of Justice ruling C-66/06. The new regulations will require more land restructuring and water management projects be scoped and environmentally assessed.

 The European Court judgement

In November 2008 the European Court of Justice in the case of the European Commission versus the Republic of Ireland (ECJ C-66/06) ruled that Ireland had not adopted all measures to ensure that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment that belong to categories 1a (projects for the restructuring of rural land holdings), b (projects for the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agricultural purposes); and c (water management projects for agriculture, including irrigation and land drainage projects) of Annex II of Environmental Impact Directive 85/337/EEC (amended by Directive 97/11/EC) were assessed for environmental impacts before consent was given. See the full judgement here .

The court ruled that by setting thresholds which take account only of the size of projects – to the exclusion of the other criteria laid down in Annex III to Directive 85/337 such as:

  • project characteristics,
  • project size,
  • cumulative impacts,
  • the use of natural resources,
  • waste production,
  • pollution,
  • nuisance,
  • risk of accident,
  • project location, and
  • characteristics of potential impacts;

and by not providing for project screening, Ireland had exceeded the limits of its discretion under Articles 2(1) and 4(2) of the Directive and had consequently not adopted all necessary measures to ensure that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment are made subject to a requirement for development consent and to an assessment of their environmental effects in accordance with Articles 5 to 10 of the Directive.

The court also noted that the Irish EIA thresholds of 100 ha in relation to the restructuring of rural holdings and 20ha in relation to water management projects in wetlands were so large that projects below these thresholds with significant environmental impacts would be granted consent without having been subject to Environmental Impact Assessment.

Significance for cultural heritage

The significance of this for cultural heritage is that the European Court noted that Irish studies had established a risk of accelerated destruction of archaeological remains directly connected with projects for the restructuring of rural land holdings and land drainage projects. In fact Archaeological Features at Risk (O’Sullivan et al. 2001), published by the Heritage Council, had found that land improvement (the removal of field boundaries and ditches) and drainage were the overwhelming causes of loss of field monuments in Ireland. The report also found that with the increasing intensification of Irish agriculture the rate of monument loss was increasing.

The Irish Government response

In response to the judgement the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have jointly produced new regulations – the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2011 and the European Communities (Agricultural Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 – to bring Ireland into compliance with the principles and requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

The new Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2011, transfer responsibility for most of the activities covered by the ECJ C-66/06 judgment, such as the re-structuring of fields and removal of boundaries, the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture and normal field drainage works, to a new consent system that will operate under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The new Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food regulations cover the following categories of development:

  • the restructuring of farm holdings;
  • the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture; and
  • land drainage works on lands used for agriculture, excluding the drainage and reclamation of wetlands, and

propose a new system of screening, to be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, for environmental impact above certain thresholds for different types of agricultural activity, and the requirement for mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment to be carried out on such projects at a higher level.

The regulations will have impose new thresholds for Environmental Impact Assessment screening and mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment that are set out below:

Category of activity Threshold for Environmental Impact Assessment screening Threshold for consent and mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment
Re-structuring of rural land holdings

  • Length of field boundary to be removed
 500 metres  4 kilometres
  • Re-contouring (within farm-holding)
2 hectares 5 hectares
  • Area of lands to be restructured by removal of field boundaries
5 hectares 50 hectares
Commencing to use uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture 5 hectares 50 hectares
Land drainage works on lands used for agriculture (excluding drainage or reclamation of wetlands) 15 hectares 50 hectares


Additional considerations will also have to be given to activities that impact on certain sites such as designated Natura 2000 areas, recorded monuments, natural heritage areas and proposed natural heritage areas and other nature reserves, given their environmental and heritage sensitivities.

The only element of the Environmental Impact Assessment system touched on by the ECJ C-66/06 judgment that will be retained within the Local Authority planning system is on-farm development activity that impacts wetlands.  The Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2011 propose an exempted development threshold of 0.1 hectare.  The mandatory threshold for Environmental Impact Assessment of drainage of wetlands will be reduced from 20 hectares to 2 hectares.  Planning permission accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment may be required even in respect of drainage below the 0.1 threshold in cases where the drainage would have a significant effect on the environment.

Further reading

O’Sullivan. M., O’Connor, D.J. and Kennedy, L. 2001. Archaeological Features At Risk: A Survey Measuring The Recent Destruction OF Ireland’s Archaeological Heritage. The Heritage Council, Kilkenny.

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. New Irish environmental regulations require more land restructuring and water management projects be scoped and assessed. The Charles Mount Blog, September 15, 2011.

The houses of the Irish Copper Age 1.1

Reconstruction of the Copper Age house from Monknewtown, Co. Meath. Illustration from Sweetman 1976.



In Ireland the use of copper commenced sometime in the period 2600-2400 BC with the development of indigenous copper production following after 2400 BC. The Copper Age continued until 2200/2100 BC when copper was alloyed with tin to create bronze and the Early Bronze Age commenced. The Copper Age is distinguished from the preceding Late Neolithic as mining and the use of copper and gold came into use, hoards of metal objects were deposited and Grooved Ware style pottery was replaced by a new international style known as Beaker.

Identifying the houses

In comparison to other periods there is comparatively little evidence of Copper Age houses. Copper Age activity in the form of spreads of soil containing Beaker pottery and lithic material associated with stake-holes, post-holes and hearths have been found at a number of sites such as the passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth in the Boyne Valley of Co. Meath, and at an increasing number of other sites throughout Ireland. However, in only a few instances have the excavators been able to determine with certainty the presence of actual Copper Age houses.

To date only about a dozen houses can be said to date to the Copper Age. The houses have been identified at just four sites: Lough Gur, Co. Limerick, Monknewtown, Co. Meath, Graigueshoneen, Co. Waterford and Ross Island, Co. Kerry. In the case of Lough Gur, excavated in the 1940s and 1950s, the houses are dated on the basis of association with Beaker pottery, but the remaining houses all have finds of Beaker pottery and corrobative radiocarbon dates. The Monknewtown House was dated to 2456-2138 BC, Graigueshoneen to 2460-2200 cal BC and the Ross Island houses to 2510-2150 BC.

Ross Island is the most significant site as it is an early copper mine with more than half the recognised houses of the period associated with Beaker pottery. At Lough Gur the houses were built at an established Neolithic settlement and the Circle L House succeeded three earlier Neolithic houses. The house at Graigueshoneen may also have succeeded an earlier house. The Monknewtown house was constructed in the interior of a hengiform ceremonial enclosure and was probably a ceremonial structure but is still useful for examining the architecture of the period.

The form of the houses

Most of the houses have ground plans ranging from oval to sub-circular and there are two D-shaped, and a rectangular and trapezoidal example. The houses vary in size from the largest example at Graigueshoneen, which was 7.6m in diameter, to the much smaller houses at Ross Island that measured from 5m down to just 1.2m in diameter. The construction method was variable with wooden stakes the most common method for supporting walls. The walls supported by the wooden stakes were presumably light wattle panels similar to those identified in wetland excavations. Stakes were sometimes used in conjunction with bedding trenches as at Ross island site A. A number of the houses at Graigueshoneen and Ross Island had overlapping concentric rings of stakes. This may indicate that these houses were rebuilt or they may have had inner and outer wall faces that contained an internal filling.

The houses at Lough Gur were different; they were of heavier construction with wooden posts and bedding trenches and had stone wall footings that would have supported heavier walls and roofing. In about half the houses there were post-holes that could have supported a roof but in the remaining cases it is not clear how the roofs were supported. At Monknewtown and Ross Island A and E the roof supports were internal and the houses may have resembled tents. The original reconstruction of the Monknewtown house suggests a structure like a tent with the internal posts supporting the roof and the eaves resting on the ground. Where doorways were identified these were on the northern, southern and eastern sides with no western examples.


The light construction and the use of wooden stakes to support probably low and light weight wattle panels and the use of a few internal posts to support the roof appears to have been the characteristic building method of the Copper Age. This would explain why so few Copper Age houses have been identified. A series of light oval structures rebuilt in the same location would leave a meaningless jumble of stake and post-holes associated with spreads of settlement material. The fact is that many of the spreads of settlement material associated with Beaker pottery and stone artefacts are probably the remains of Copper Age settlements. The really puzzling thing however is that not a single one of these definite or possible Copper Age settlements contained a scrap of copper.

Additional notes

Robert Chapple has written a very interesting blog involving an analysis of the radiocarbon dates of the Copper Age which you can read here.

Version 1.1: revised 3/10/2011

Further reading

William O’Brien’s 2004 volume Ross Island: Mining, Metal and Society in Early Ireland, Bronze Age Studies 6, NUI Galway, is the most important work produced to date on the Copper Age in Ireland and contains the excavation reports of most of the known Copper Age houses. The Lough Gur houses were published in Seán P. Ó Ríordáin 1954, Lough Gur Excavations: Neolithic and Bronze Age Houses on Knockadoon, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C, 297-459 and Eoin Grogan and George Eogan et al. 1987, Lough Gur Excavations by Seán P. Ó Ríordáin: Further Neolithic and Beaker Habitations on Knockadoon, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C, 299-506. Monknewtown is published in P. David Sweetman 1976 An Earthen Enclosure at Monknewtown, Slane, Co. Meath, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C, 25-73. Graigueshoneen is published in John Tierney et al. 2008, Beaker Settlement: Area 2, Graigueshoneen TD Licence No. 98E0575, in P. Johnston et al. Near the Bend in the River: The Archaeology of the N25 Kilmacthomas Realignment. NRA Scheme Monographs 3, Dublin.

About the author

Dr. Charles Mount has been involved in research on the Irish Bronze Age for more than twenty years and has published extensively on the burials, monuments and artefacts of the period. This blog post is based on research he is preparing for a book on the period. You can read more of Dr. Mount’s publications here .

Cite this post as:

Mount, C. The Houses of the Irish Copper Age. The Charles Mount Blog, September 8, 2011.